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Points.com, which operates a virtual wallet for travel loyalty programs as well as for a variety of engines to use and exchange those currencies, added some major new functionality this week.
As of Wednesday, the hotel booking engine used by Points.com and its partners now has access to all of the inventory that Priceline uses. For consumers, this means that the utility of the Points.com wallet or any of its associated loyalty programs, just went up dramatically.
The new inventory has only be integrated into Pointshound.com, the search engine that Points.com acquired in 2014 that gives travelers a loyalty point kickback on hotel bookings. In the coming weeks, however, the group confirmed that it would start rolling the updates out to partner airline programs including Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and ANA.
Frequent flyers that use miles to book a hotel room directly through their loyalty program portal (often through a Points.com engine), will thus soon have access to a broader spectrum of hotels provided by Priceline.
Additionally, the new functionality allows loyalty program operators to bake in the same point kickback incentives that Pointshound.com uses. When booking a hotel through an airline loyalty program-operated portal, for example, it may now be possible to earn thousands of miles as an incentive without going through the Pointshound.com engine.
Lucrative as those offers may seem, they still place responsibility on the consumer to verify that the number of points being used (or earned) on a booking is an appropriate value. Points.com’s great advantage is its ability to convert loyalty points in one program to a booking in another – but along the way, a careless consumer can waste a lot of points on a booking that could easily be made with only a little bit of cash. In 2013, The Points Guy suggested that some transactions made through the Points.com portal can be hard to justify after the fees and conversion ratios are considered.
Similarly, booking hotels to earn a massive mileage bonus can often be financially questionable. An extensive study run by Doctor of Credit found that sites like Pointshound.com and Rocketmiles can return prices both more and less expensive than through booking direct or a traditional OTA. And if the cost is significantly more and the mileage kickback is only incremental, it can often be a better idea to simply book a room with cash directly through the operator versus jumping through the points hoops.
Despite the gray area around conversion rates and the value of each point, there’s no question that this new Priceline inventory will make it easier for Points.com users (and partners) to find a wider spectrum of hotels that fit their needs. And for those who have miles to burn or simply need a simple solution, the new tools should be welcome.